Friday, June 8, 2018

Cupcakes wars

It's no surprise that cupcakes seem to get more and more popular every year. Yes they're delicious, but also easy to make and inexpensive. They're portion-controlled and don't need a fork, they're easy to transport and bare cakes are a blank canvas for decorating.

The 7th annual K104.7 Cupcake Festival was Saturday, May 5 on Main Street in Beacon and featured over 20,000 cupcakes for every taste. Fun varieties included Coquito, Blueberry Lemon, Beerbutter, and Irish Car Bomb. Almost 100 vendors lined Main Street including food and crafts.  Organized by K104.7 radio, the event ended with the Cupcake Wars final at 3pm. The winner took home $1,000 and a year's worth of bragging rights for 'Best Cupcake in the Hudson Valley."

K104.7 Cupcake Festival:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Water discussion

How does pollution enter your drinking water? That was a core question at The Taste of Sprawl: A Water Discussion hosted by Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Held Sunday, April 15 at Highlands Country Club in Garrison, the event was filled to capacity and began with a panel discussion followed by afternoon breakout groups focused on particular regions.

Presenters stressed the importance of educating the public about the path water takes to our faucets. Protection of watersheds is crucial. A watershed, also referred to as a catchment or drainage basin, is an area in which water collects and drains into a common larger source such as a reservoir. A watershed consists of a grid of land and surface water such as ponds, rivers, streams, and wetlands, as well as underlying water sources. Watersheds receive precipitation and snowmelt which are either absorbed or run off. Watershed makeup varies. Soil type and saturation vary in watersheds. Soil affects absorption and can be any variety from fine to rocky. Soil that is saturated can’t absorb any more water causing increased run off.

The morning panel, Safe Drinking Water: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure, featured four panelists: Paul Gallay envoronmental group Riverkeeper, Peter Smith of watershed protection group Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, Russell Urban-Mead Hazen engineering company, and Elisa Chae of Cornell Water Resoures Institute/NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program. Moderator Carla Casillo of Hudson Valley Regional Council/Cornwall Conservation Advosory Council hoped attendees left with messaging to use in their own communities about the effects of population and industry outpacing water protections. Participants were encouraged to use the event's resources to influence lawmakers and funders, encourage citizen science projects, and examine their own actions.

Panelist Peter Smith of Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance talked about his exploration of Newburgh's watershed, situated in an increasingly developed industrial region. He found the area was miscategorized and contributing streams were misclassified as not carrying drinking water when in fact they were. The watershed contains a capped landfill and Newburgh's source of drinking water, Washington Lake, is in the flight path of planes that take off and land at Stewart Airport. Panelist Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper said water filtration plants are not a end-all solution. Municipalities must keep contaminants our of water supplies to reduce pressure on filtration systems. He stressed three priorities: investing in infrastructure, tracking down and reducing sources of pollution, and getting ahead of emerging contaminants.

The actions of citizens affect what governments do. Panelist Elisa Chae of Cornell Water Resources Institute/NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program talked about the importance of being proactive over reactive. She talked about the regulations on water as it makes its way from underground aquifers to the finished product flowing from our tap. Many people don't know where tap water comes from because there haven't been many newsworthy issues, but these stories are emerging as development increases, notably water problems in Hoosick Falls, Flint and Long Island.  Chae said better technology enables researchers to detect substances before human impact catches up. She stressed that now is the time for communities to voice gaps and needs and that there is funding available to help people better understand and react to issues.

Panelist and hydrogeologist Rusell Urban-Mead of the Chazen Companies explained precipitation. Of the region's snow/rainfall, half supports plants and half sinks into the ground. Climate models indicate in the future we will get this much or more in the future. Paul Gallay from Riverkeeper talked about pharmaceutical disposal within households and plastic reside from plastic bottles. Each winter water sources face contamination from road salt and a panelist recommended a special report on road salt published in 2010 by the Cary Institute in Millbrook, NY

After lunch participants could choose breakout sessions on the areas of Newburgh, Phillipstown, and Beacon. Peter Smith led the Newburgh group with a watershed map and an overview of permits and profits of its industry invaders. The Beacon group was led by City Council member Lee Kyriacou and Asher Pacht of Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries/Beacon Conservation Advisory Committtee. It was interstingto learn about the nearby correctional facility's water use and how Beacon must purchase it's water from outside its city.

How does this information get to the public? Participation is critical. Citizen attendance at government meetings has meaning. Thinking to ourselves that it'll work out in the end isn't solving problems. Panelist Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper was leaving for China a few days later where he was, coincidentally, presenting about the power of public engagement and its effect on policy.

Hudson Highands Land Trust:

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bluff garden in winter

“Vajra is connected with the East, the dawn, winter. It is a winter morning, crystal clear, icicles sharp and glittering, The landscape is not empty or desolate but is full of all sorts of thought-provoking sharpness.”
-Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa

Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson stretches across nearly 1,000 acres. One of the most historically dense sections is a rectangular walled garden overlooking the Hudson River with a view of the Catskill mountains in the distance. Designed around 1903, Blithewood is an Italianate garden, part of Blithewood Estate which includes a mansion donated to the college. Its angular geometric structure includes paths and beds, statues, semi-enclosed areas, a water feature in its center, a copper-roofed pavilion and two pagodas.  The garden is open year-round and if free to tour.

The college celebrated the garden’s 115th anniversary by kicking off a campaign in 2016 to facilitate its renovation. Because the site is open to the elements year-round deterioration from over a century of freeze/thaw cycles is evident. Plaster from the columns of the pavilion is falling off and brick mortar is crumbling.

Last year a new development in the project was the installation of interpretive signs for visitors. The Bard Arboretum was awarded a grant from the Hudson River Valley Heritage Area to add signs to the site which display the garden’s structures and history. The signs were researched and designed by a Bard graduate student then built in 2017 by local firm Terrabilt which specializes in interpretive, informational, and wayfinding signage that is durable and sustainably constructed.

The hillside below the garden is overrun by invasive plants including common reed and Japanese knotweed and is irregular and steep, making it difficult to maintain. The school implemented an environmentally sound solution by leasing goats to remediate the 1.5-acre hill. The goats eat the weeds for weeks at a time, needing only water and some human help for dense sections. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation awarded the college a 3-year Invasive Species Rapid Response Grant to host the goats for three growing seasons through 2019.

Blithewood Garden:

Monday, April 30, 2018

A space for all things

With its asymmetrical leaning stones and border of water Parliament of Reality looks like a Japanese rock garden but it’s inspiration actually comes from Iceland. Since 2009 Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s first permanent outdoor installation has rested on Bard College’s campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. Modeled after Iceland’s parliament structure, called Althing, which is the oldest parliament in the world, the installation sits in the campus’s North end across from the massive Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. 

The work consists of a stone island surrounded encircled by water and reachable by a bridge covered in a steel  lattice tunnel. Althing translates to “a space for all things,” an idea conceived with the life of the campus in mind.

Bard College:

Saturday, March 31, 2018

War crimes

How can you walk by a grid of bones on a table and not read the story?

Last month we took a trip out of the Hudson Valley to MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Set on 16 acres of an urban section of North Adams, Massachusetts, the site’s 26 buildings are connected by elevated walkways and courtyards. The Hoosick River flows through the site which has an unmistakably industrial vibe. Since before the Revolutionary War, the area was instrumental in the manufacture of shoes, hats, cabinets, and armor plates for a Civil War ship and components for the atomic bomb in World War II. Manufacturing ended in 1986 and the site was transformed into a museum after staff of Williams College museum of Art sought an economic space to exhibit large works that would not fit in conventional museums. MASS MoCA opened in 1999.

Artist Jenny Holzer’s giant light projections, carved stone benches, and posters make up her campus-wide exhibit of words and messages. In the East Gallery Lustmord Table features arranged bones on a wooden table, a project rooted in the war in former Yugoslavia. Attached to some bones are metal bands engraved with words from sex crimes perpetrated against Muslim women and girls. In the 1990s, 20,000 to 50,000 women endured rape and forced pregnancy, events the Golden Gate University Law Review called “one of the most egregious orchestrated human rights violations against women in this century.” Lustmord is German for “sexually motivated murder.” The bones were sourced from decommissioned medical samples and teaching materials. 

Other works show an autopsy reports indicating torture of detainees killed while in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and an image of a handprint from an Iraqi detainee who died in U.S. custody in 2003.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Ice on the hudson

“One of the reasons there are so many terms for conditions of ice is that the mariners observing it were often trapped in it, and had nothing to do except look at it.” 

Alec WilkinsonThe Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration

One of the most striking places to see the effects of below-zero temperatures is on the Hudson River. Though jet skis and leisure boats are not in season, the river remains a year-round shipping route for petroleum products as well as a source of drinking water for over 100,000 Hudson Valley residents in communities such as Poughkeepsie, Highland and Rhinebeck.

When the Hudson freezes over the route is cleared by icebreaking boats. This past January the 140-foot U.S. Coast Guard Penobscot Bay icebreaking tug made it’s way from New Jersey to Albany. Can ram through ice up to 3 feet thick with the aid of a lubrication system that forces air and water between the boat’s hull and ice.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Myco tincture

What do you make with mushrooms and alcohol? A reishi mushroom tincture was the final product of Reishi & the Power of Medicinal Mushrooms, a workshop on February 16 at the Moon Infospace in Newburgh. Hosted by Rochester-based fungi cultivator Olga Tzogas of Smugtown Mushrooms, we learned about medicinal mushroom varieties, sources, preparation, as well as some fungi lore.

Medicinal mushrooms have been around for centuries and utilized by countries the world over. Olga presented a slideshow of photos and uses of common medicinal varieties. Tooth fungi is a strong antiflamatory which can rebuild nerves and treat crohn’s disease. Reishi is a liver detoxifier and improves oxygen utilization. Maitake regulates blood sugar and birch polypore can substitute for a bandage. Turkeytail, one of the most common and studied varieties, can expel dampness from lungs and help build muscle. Shitake improves circulation and offers protection from nitrates which are found in bacon.

Mushroom images appear in prehistoric rock paintings. A variety called amanita muscaria, commonly recognized as a red cap with white spots, takes many forms: from Christmas tree ornaments to an iconic role in Nintendo’s Mario franchise. Mushrooms appear in a fresco depicting Adam and Eve within 12th Century Plaincourault Abbey in France, as well as in Alice in Wonderland and the 1940 Disney film Fantasia.

Olga helped participants create tinctures using a simple pack-and-cover method. She brought her own farmed Reishi pieces which we broke up and packed into jars which were then filled with alcohol which both preserves and extracts material as it sits for 6-8 weeks. The next step in this “double extraction” process involves draining, adding water and simmering the solution into a viscous liquid that can be consumed in tea form.

Olga’s knowledge of mushrooms is vast: she talked about industries using mushrooms as a substitute for plastic in packing material and how they “create life from death” by breaking down dead and decaying plant matter on forest floors. Though they are superficially plant-like, mushrooms are actually genetically more similar to humans. Olga’s passion in the mushroom kingdom is for medicinals. Utilizing them as both food and medicine is not only a great way to take control of how we eat and treat illness, but restores a connection between food and medicine that we forgot or never learned.

Smugtown Mushrooms: